According to results recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, among elderly patients with glioblastoma, treatment with radiation therapy plus supportive care modestly improves survival without adversely affecting quality of life compared with supportive care only.

Glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma are aggressive forms of cancer that originate in the brain. These forms of cancer are on the rise among elderly patients. However, elderly patients are often not considered for participation of clinical trials. As a result, standards of care for elderly patients in various types of cancer are often not established when these standards are defined for their younger counterparts. At present, there is no overall standard treatment approach for patients with glioblastoma who are 70 years of age or older.

Researchers from France recently conducted a clinical trial to evaluate treatment including radiation therapy among elderly patients with glioblastoma or anaplastic astrocytoma. This trial included 85 patients from 10 medical centers who were treated with radiation therapy plus supportive care or supportive care only. Supportive care consisted of steroids and agents to prevent or reduce seizures, physical and psychological support, and care to keep patients comfortable. With a median follow-up of 21 weeks, results were reported for 81 patients diagnosed with glioblastoma.

  • The median survival was 29.1 weeks for patients treated with radiation therapy compared with 16.9 weeks for patients treated with supportive care only.
  • Quality-of-life issues and cognitive evaluations did not differ significantly between the two groups of patients.
  • There were no severe side effects associated with treatment with radiation.

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The researchers concluded that, compared with supportive care alone, treatment with radiation therapy and supportive care for patients 70 years or older with glioblastoma improves survival without affecting quality of life.

Elderly patients diagnosed with glioblastoma may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of treatment including radiation therapy.

Reference: Keime-Guibert F, Chinot O, Taillandier L, et al. Radiotherapy for glioblastoma in the elderly. New EnglandJournal of Medicine. 2007; 356:1527-1535.